Evaluation of cool-season cover crop varieties

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An excellent new publication has been released from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Program that may be of interest to cover croppers in Kansas. The publication summarizes a 2-year evaluation of 56 commercially available varieties of black oats, black seeded oats, cereal rye, crimson clover, daikon radish, hairy vetch, red clover, and winter/field pea.

Similar to the variety trials for commodity crops like corn and wheat, this study aims to assist farmers in making informed decisions on planting the best-adapted cover crop variety for their location and cropping system.

Study procedure

Cool-season, annual, cover crop varieties were evaluated at NRCS Plant Material Centers in Manhattan, KS, Elsberry, MO, and East Lansing, MI. Replicated plots were drilled in the fall. Legumes were inoculated prior to planting. Non-legumes were fertilized with 40 lbs. N/acre, and all varieties received 60 lbs P/acre and 30 lbs. K/acre for both study years. A more detailed description of the procedure is included in the publication.

Cover crop varieties were evaluated for:

  • Quick fall cover—Emergence at 14 days after planting: Excellent >90%, Good 61-90%, Fair 25-60%, Poor <25%,
  • Fall stand quality—Yes is >65% emergence at 28 days after planting,
  • Winter survival—Plant survival rating of Excellent >75%, Good 50-75%, Marginal 25-50%, Poor <25%,
  • Maturity date—Days after planting to 50% bloom, data was grouped over the region by <235=Early, 235-250=Mid, >250=Late to identify varietal differences, and
  • Disease and insect ranking—Damage observed was None, Low, Moderate, or High.

Cover crop performance and results

Each type of cover crop (black oats/black seeded oats, cereal rye, crimson clover, daikon radish, hairy vetch, red clover (shown in Figure 1), and winter/field pea) is summarized and includes a description with photos, benefits, performance rankings (outlined above) by variety, and expected adaption.

The full publication is available online at: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/natpmtn13590.pdf

Figure 1. Example of the cover crop performance and results for crimson clover. Each crop evaluated in the 2-year study has a similar summary included in the publication. Screenshot from USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Technical Note No. 2



DeAnn Presley, Soil Management Specialist

Tags:  cover crops cool season